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What to watch in Apple's earnings

Apple CEO Tim Cook

Investors will look to Apple's earnings call this afternoon for insight into iPhone X demand and how much overseas cash it may bring back to the states.

Here are the 3 big things we'll be paying attention to.

1. How's iPhone X demand?

  • This is the way-more-than-$64,000-question. Apple (and investors) are counting on the high-end phone to generate a "super cycle" of higher-than-typical upgrade rates and selling prices.
  • Recent reports have suggested production cuts, but longtime Apple watchers know such reports have a decidedly mixed track record.

2. How will Apple use all that repatriated cash?

  • Expect Apple to talk about buyback and dividend strategy and, if tradition is any guide, say little about its acquisition plans.
  • Historically, Apple tends to say the same thing: It buys lots of little companies and, while it hasn't done a lot of big ones, isn't philosophically opposed.

3. Where's Apple placing its bets?

  • It's hard to know just how much insight we will get, but as always, we'll be watching for any sign of where Apple is putting its time and energy.
  • Though it doesn't typically comment on future stuff, there's a chance Apple could make a nod to the shift toward quality and performance that it is making for this year's big software releases.
  • The company also sometimes gives oblique hints on whether to expect it to go into "new categories" or not.

Other indicators:

  • Services has been the fastest growing part of Apple's business and closely watched by Wall Street.
  • In the August-to-October quarter, Apple finally showed some improvement in China. It will be interesting to see how the December quarter went in that regard.
  • The numbers: Analysts are expecting Apple to report per-share earnings of $3.82 on revenue of $86.3 billion, per Zacks.
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